The Congress on Tuesday sought the resignation of HRD Minister of State Ram Shankar Katheria for participating in a condolence meeting in Agra where speakers equated Muslims to “demons” and warned of a “final battle”.
As first reported by The Indian Express, BJP’s Agra MP Katheria had said at Sunday’s event — to condole the murder of a VHP worker allegedly by Muslim youths — that “if we are required to take to the streets, we will come on the streets in thousands. Let anybody dare stop us”.
On Tuesday, seeking to clarify his position, Katheria said, “I had not taken the name of any community. I had said that the culprit who murdered the VHP worker should be given the death sentence. I had also said that the Hindu community should unite for their safety.”
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But Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that Katheria’s comments were part of attempts to divide the country. “They speak whenever elections are nearing. They talk about dividing the country and not uniting. If they continue to speak like this, there will be repercussions across the country,” said Kharge.
Police, meanwhile, confirmed that three persons were booked on Tuesday for “inflammatory statements against the Muslim community”, including VHP Agra secretary Ashok Lavaniya and local BJP leader Kundanika Sharma.
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Lavaniya had called for the “final battle” while Sharma had said, “Raid them, wear burqas, but corner them. Behead ten heads for one head.”
On Ground Zero, however, the Sangh Parivar’s attempts to seek revenge for the “martyrdom” of Arun Mahaur, who ran a furniture shop in the Mantola area, is not quite going the way they want it to.
On Monday, local resident Sadiq Ansari opened the shop of his “close friend” to help “meet his pending commitments”. On Tuesday, representatives of the Mahaur community said they would “thwart any attempt by the BJP to trigger communal violence”. And local residents said Mahaur’s killing was the result of a quarrel and had nothing to do with “the cow angle”. Five Muslims youths were arrested for the killing.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ansari said he opened Mahaur’s shop to deliver an order for a bed, a dressing table and a sofa set. The shop had been closed since Mahaur’s murder on February 25.
“I worked with Arun for over four decades. We were born in this same mohalla, learnt carpentry together and often undertook joint assignments. How can I let my friend down?” asked Ansari.
Given the high Muslim population in Mantola, Mahaur used to employ many from the community at his shop. “I joined him when I was just 10 years old and started learning carpentry. There was never a Hindu-Muslim feeling,” said Saleem Sheikh, a 23-year-old employee at Mahaur’s shop.
Speaking about the murder, local residents pointed fingers at main-accused Shahrukh, a resident of the Hindu-dominated Nala Teela Munnalal locality. In a version endorsed by local police, many said the killing may have been in response to a quarrel Shahrukh had with Mahaur a few days previously.
“We heard that Shahrukh had quarrelled with someone and declared that he would kill him. Shahrukh often used to display a katta and tamancha that he carried with him,” said Arun Rajput, who works in a shoe factory near Shahrukh’s home.
Rajput’s cousin Prabhu Dayal Mahaur described Shahrukh as a “hooligan”. “Shahrukh first quarrelled with another local resident Shyam Mahaur. When Arun intervened, Shahrukh threatened him. But no one thought this would end in murder,” said Mahaur.
Representatives of the Mahaur community said they were “unhappy” with the Sangh Parivar’s plans to hold a “kalash yatra” of the victim’s ashes across the state.
When contacted, Nand Lal Bharti, vice-president of Akhil Bharatiya Mahaur Samaj in UP, said, “The BJP wants to take political advantage of the murder because assembly elections are due in 2017. I live in Mantola, Arun was also born here. It’s a very sensitive area. Why don’t the BJP and RSS come and live here? They say they want to help his family, but what financial help have they provided? Let the BJP offer his widow a central government job. Arun was murdered and we want strict punishment for his killers. But when the accused have already been arrested, why are they indulging in this politics? This is a clear attempt to disturb the atmosphere here.”
Prabhu Dayal Mahaur said he suspected that the Sangh move may also be a ploy to “gather Dalit votes”.
“At the cremation, they created a drama and burnt an effigy of Islam. What’s this nonsense? We are holding a condolence meeting and you are doing this. What has the murder got to do with Islam?” he asked.
“They used him for their ends when he was alive, they are using him now when he is dead. MP Babu Lal recently gave us a cheque of Rs 10 lakh. It was given from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund but the MP made it seem as if it came from the BJP,” said Mahaur.
According to Ghule Sushil Chandrabhan, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Agra city, the FIR was filed based on a report submitted by Sub-Inspector Anil Kumar who said he was present during the meeting where the three accused delivered “objectionable speeches”.
“We will obtain video footage of the meeting to identity the others involved and act accordingly,” said Chandrabhan.
He added that the FIR was filed under IPC sections 295 (A) (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony).